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DLF WG on Labor in Digital Libraries, Archives and Museums: Valuing Labor Subgroup

Meeting minutes: August 9, 2019

Contingent Positions

Facilitator: Erin Hurley

Note-taker: Amy Wickner

Complete 2019 schedule

SAA labor discussions recap

Activities & sessions related to labor issues broadly

Pop-up on low pay in archives - low salaries, student debt, other contributing factors to the struggle to make a living as an archivist

Forum on archivist salaries

  • potential of putting policy into place for SAA Job Board requiring salaries to be listed, for & against format, Q&A, open forum
  • Set precedent of people saying their salaries before commenting

Itza Carbajal created a salary tracking spreadsheet (in the resources below!)

Report back on SAA council agenda - interest in continuing to do more work re: low salaries & archives field

Issues & Advocacy + SNAP:

Collective Responsibility Forum: - preview of the white paper

  • Part 1: presenting outcomes from white paper
  • Part 2: breakouts to engage a theme or responsibility & talk about more concrete solutions leading into 2nd forum
  • See Collective Responsibility OSF repo:
  • Status of Labor WG guidelines for contingent labor?

Back to salaries… How to make salary data actionable? Is there a form of accreditation that can address labor issues? Lots of surveys going around - what are people hoping to do with that?

  • Tension between - is the point to give individuals more information for negotiating or to develop collective action?
  • Do professional organizations have a responsibility to get involved in these things? So far this has been a hard argument to make, orgs feel like it’s not their role to be getting into specific characteristics of e.g. pay
  • Not many orgs with the exception of DLF have seen it as their responsibility to get involved; mostly regional orgs feeling emboldened to take this up:

Why are labor issues (etc.) getting more traction in some orgs than others?

  • Org structures, culture of how things get done
  • It's the structure of the orgs
  • DLF is open, SAA is far more hierarchical
  • There's not a culture of member-led projects at SAA; leadership-led projects, sure, people who have specific volunteer roles.
  • also the SAA council is the most diverse Council they've ever been and that shows in what they are caring about right now.
  • Where revenue comes from e.g. job board for SAA:


The present: project positions exist; how can we make them more ethical and equitable? How can we center worker agency?

Tension between needs of the present v. hope for the future

Everything is designed a certain way

Lack of institutional accountability

Lack of information

  • workers don’t get to see the grant documentation
    • Some exceptions, but should be the baseline
  • managers don’t know that archivists are on food stamps, have no idea what’s going on & no incentive to correct
  • “Lack of imagination” -- Dorothy Berry

Long-term dismantling

Interim - design mechanisms for institutional accountability e.g. connecting funder reps directly to workers, workers can see grant budget, feedback loop, institutions know they’ll be periodically assessed by workers -- institutional profiles (the more punitive option)

Goal is structural accountability

Contingent positions internally funded, term-limited nature not dictated by a grant but by institutional design / how inst funds itself

  • The biggest surprise for me from I&A section temp job survey is that 50% of the funding for project positions is internal institutional funding, not grant funding **
  • Setting forth guidelines for funders doesn’t really apply where institutions fund themselves
  • Library workers on 3-year contract positions
  • Why do institutions do this?????? (I have some opinions…)
  • internal contingent positions are the hardest to deal with - they are the most exploitative, the part-time contract that keeps getting renewed but is never certain
  • A really useful data point would be how many of those contingent pilot positions ever turned into new full-time positions. Not sure how we would find that out, but it would be interesting to see
    • in my experience, they never pan out to full time!!
    • We asked that question in our survey (but restricted to grant funded) and 66% of workers who stayed at their institution moved right into another contingent position rather than perm
  • State archives: PT temp, limit 2-years, trying to build a case to turn this into a permanent position but it’s a long process with HR & moving around internal resources. Know we want this support but only so many FTEs
    • Person in this job should have been able to do an entry-level position with new masters degree but had to wait around while we tried to decide, ended up moving into a different division for a permanent position
    • If someone is working 40hrs/week for a year, automatically become eligible for health insurance (Utah)
    • California: laws that if you’re in a term-limited position for a certain number of years, automatically earn more job protection, colloquial wisdom was that you couldn’t expect more than 3 years at a particular California institution because institution would see it as a liability that you would qualify for more job protection

Tension between how people think these positions are supposed to work in the abstract and how they work in reality

  • No good pathway from entry-level to experience; people just stuck around long enough
  • Can we make a one-pager of mythbusters?
    • helpful for advocating against the exploitative use of contract/outsourced work in your institution to higher ups (something we are attempting to do at the moment). So hard to find the hard data on this.
    • we could just use data analyzed from the temporary positions survey.

The future: What are the systemic issues that cause us to rely on project labor and how can managers begin to address these issues in the workplace?

Feels like impacts on workers have root causes in strategic planning & how leaders see their roles as stewards of organizations: if a leader thinks their role is to go out and keep bringing in new $$ & projects for an institution, that has one kind of impact on workers. if they think their role is to closely match workers' abilities & aspirations to the kinds of programs and services the organization produces / maintains, that approach has a different kind of impact on workers. Not every approach is going to work at every scale, but many LAM institutions & leaders seem to focus really hard on the large-scale approaches that are all about size & growth. Want to see leadership imagine & behave differently.

Leaders haven’t held these positions in a long time, or ever; divorced from the impacts on workers

There has been a lot of great work recently about impacts on temporary workers but can we also think about how it impacts the field as a whole? Contingent position after position affects the leadership pipeline & demographics: no opportunities to advance, end up burning out & leaving the field altogether

  • This point is a missing piece that can contribute to seeing how non-contingent workers have a stake in conditions of temp & contingent workers too

Similar to why unpaid internships suck! See Karly’s article:

Looking at high-level positions, seems impossible to build the type of experience needed, from where we are, restarting the clock every 2 years

Lots of failed searches at high level because there are no new folks coming up

Narrowly defining relevant experience → instead, trying to be open about requirements such as supervisory experience, reframe as leadership in working with a team of people, moving away from hierarchical models

Who are we leaving out when we just borrow requirements from other job postings without thinking?

Contingent work, especially overlapping or serial, can make it hard to quantify experience in the way job descriptions require - they don’t reflect the reality of those transitions & what jobs people actually have

We chose grants for Collective Responsibility because it was easy to identify the actors (and the money?), also prestige of getting major institutions to follow guidelines could help start a shift → rebranding what it means to be a responsible institution, like why not consider workers???

Self-advocacy and advocating for others

How can we teach workers how to advocate for themselves at work, without putting all of the responsibility for success or failure on the worker?

How to do without fear of retaliation?

Collective approach: people in more stable or riskier positions take on responsibility

  • But how often does that happen? E.g. anti-racism work in which mostly non-tenured people are involved
  • Relies on the risks of getting rid of a lot of people at once
  • White colleagues don’t care about librarians of color WHEN THEY SHOULD -
  • Self-advocacy creates additional inequities & prevents us from moving together: those who have less power positionally will definitely be left behind
  • Not that self-advocacy is wrong e.g. need to be able to make at least a living wage, but the work doesn’t stop there: all of us look not only at our own individual salary situations but look across the organization
  • The necessity of seeing that your circumstances are intertwined with others’ - if someone’s in a contingent position at your org
  • Organizations try to pit individuals against one another if they feel threatened → people are afraid that if they make noise they’ll lose what little gains they have

Additional topics

Advocacy efforts of professional organizations

  • What can professional organizations do here? What is their role?

Morale, burnout, bullying, and other mental health issues


UCLA temporary librarians letter:

Archivist salary transparency open spreadsheet: (of particular interest/relevance?: permanent/temporary category; years of experience category - people with 4-6 or more of experience working temporary positions)

Collective Responsibility white paper draft for public comment:

OSF repo:

DLF Labor Ethical Guidelines draft:


Next meeting: Friday 9/6, 2pm ET/11am PT: Tech Workers Coalition, Jess facilitating

ISO facilitators for 10/4 & 11/4 - let Amy know if interested